Breathe in the New Year

Breathe in the New Year

At the moment of birth we take our miraculous first breath. From then on, breathing is natural, easy, and peaceful — right? Not Exactly…

For infants, healthy, full breathing comes spontaneously. Their whole body is involved in the gentle inhalations and exhalations of life. However, as we learn to participate in and cope with the environment and circumstances around us, we shape our breath to meet the changing demands of life. As we mature, the changes in our breathing are unconscious and imperceptible…until one day, voila! We have become adults and have transitioned our natural breathing pattern into one primary breath per day: The big INHALATION at the beginning of each day, the final EXHALATION when our heads hit the pillow at night. So, what is happening in between — all day long?

If you choose to observe your breath, you will notice countless times throughout each day that there is not much breath going on. In our modern, highly-demanding lifestyles, it is not uncommon to find ourselves breathing shallowly. Often we maintain a shallow breathing pattern in the upper chest, never fully exhaling. Occasionally, folks will breath shallowly closer to the “bottom” of the exhalation, never fully inhaling. Either way, we are restricting our overall oxygen flow (see Brent’s outstanding article about the physiology of breathing on page 3). One of the tricks to “healthy breathing” is to observe your breathing, without straining to inhale or exhale.

There are many breathing exercises which can be extremely useful. But you don’t have to take time out of your day to integrate a fuller, healthier breathing pattern into your life. Begin with driving. Turn off your radio. Before you even pull out of your driveway pause for 3 to 5 breaths. Just count them. If you can learn to “belly breathe” as Brent suggests on page 3, this is even better. As you pull out of your driveway and drive down your street, your body and your thoughts can start to go into “auto-pilot” mode. Sometimes you show up at work and don’t even remember the details of how you actually got there. So begin noticing your breath. At the stop sign, when a car pulls out in front of you, or as you rehearse what you’re going to say to your boss today…just pause and notice your breath. Then count the next 3 to 5 breaths. Notice how difficult it can be just to stay present for 3 to 5 breaths. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s difficult to focus. Be gentle, kind, even playful about those silly repetitive thoughts that demand your attention all day long, and restrict your healthy breathing capacity. Simple, right? Not exactly…

The seemingly natural act of breathing can take a significant amount of attention and discipline to remember to tune in. Yet, it is one of the easiest things you can do to support more balance in your life. Breathing fully, allowing the expansion your lungs, ribs, and abdomen can affect the health of your physical being dramatically. Try it for yourself.

As I was preparing to write this article, I had an entertaining thought. What would our society be like if we had regular “healthy breathing” announcements throughout the day on our radios? Instead of “this is a test by the Emergency Broadcasting System,” we could hear, “this is a reminder from the Healthy Breathing National Support System…”

Remember, life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. Do you want your breath taken away by stress, anxiety, work, bills, and traffic? Or would you rather have your system well-tuned to respond to the beautiful sunset over the mountains, the snow gently blanketing the city and illuminating the atmosphere, or the awe that fills your soul at the sight of a newborn infant and it’s natural, spontaneous first breaths of life